We use the term “human nature” most often to describe the cause of someone’s actions. For example, it might be said that it is human nature to desire attention. When a child cries or acts out we could say that it is their nature to behave that way because they desire attention. Also we may use the term to justify the behavior. In other words, it is their disposition that motivates their behavior. If we use the adjectives good or bad to describe their disposition, those adjectives describe the “state” or condition of their disposition. This is the sense that we will use these terms when discussing the concept of the state of human nature.
One of the most well known works of Thomas Boston is titled “Human Nature in its Fourfold State”. According to Boston, throughout the history of mankind, his nature or disposition can be classified into four specific conditions or states.
- State of Innocence
- State of Corruption
- State of Grace
- Eternal State
There exists no other intermediate state of human nature. For example, a man’s nature is either corrupt or innocent, good or bad. He cannot be a little good or a little bad. Neither can his nature be very good or very bad.
The state of innocence is the shortest state that man ever existed in. Some commentators of scripture have proposed that man’s innocence only lasted about one day. For certain, out of the entirety of the biblical account, the innocent state of man’s human nature takes up only a few verses of the first two chapters of Genesis. (Talk about a short story)
The Enlightenment Period gave us a softer side. The “Higher Criticism” philosophers of the 19th century planted the seeds of unbiblical views of human nature in the minds of educators, artists, and authors. In my last post I referenced “The Scarlet Letter” with a little tongue in cheek about its accuracy regarding the author’s topic of the Puritans. Hawthorne was an enlightenment writer. So were Emily Dickenson, Louisa May Alcott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their enlightened minds would not agree with scripture. Their writings reflect their belief that there are no absolutes but rather degrees of guilt or innocence. (Don’t get me started on recommended reading lists.) From that period we began to question the authority of scripture. The “innocence of a child” became a phrase to describe the state of those warm cuddly little creatures that fulfill all our desires and expectations. Even the Church adopted alternatives to the imputed guilt of sin. Responsibility for sin rests on the individual regardless of ones awareness of the sin. Adam had perfect knowledge of God and therefore had perfect knowledge of what God required. Adam did not need a codified set of do’s and don’ts to obey God. It was obvious to him. When Adam failed, he and all his descendants lost their perfect knowledge of God.
Man has three mechanisms, the body, the mind, and the soul. These mechanisms operate in union with one another and when functioning properly do so with perfection. The body is the physical plant that the mind and soul operate out of. The mind is the source of knowledge or intellect. The soul is the source of our will where intellect is evaluated and actions approved.
Adam was created with a perfectly functioning mind, body, and soul. The inclination of his soul was to will what his mind knew to be pleasing to the Master. God made him habitually righteous or obedient. The incarnate Christ had all these mechanisms as he was fully man. Unlike Adam, Christ was also fully God. The primary difference between God and man as it relates to their mechanisms is that God is unchangeable. We refer to God as being immutable. Man is mutable. Adam’s mechanisms mutated and the result was sin. Adam could not be actually righteous because his actions could not justify his innocence. Christ’s immutable knowledge and will resulted in his actual righteousness.
The loss of innocence passed man into the next state of human nature. Boston uses the term “corrupt” to describe you and me. This is not how we like to think of ourselves but we must at least consider what he means. Next time we will look at the longer story.